By Margaret Goodman, MD
It is funny how epiphanies happen every so often as you watch a fight. One made its way to the television screen a few weeks ago on ESPN Friday Night Fights when Luisito Espinoza was stopped. It crossed my mind, as it did the expert next to me, that more often than not the referee, doctor, or cornermen overlook the “flow of the fight” or what the fighter is trying to tell you.
In Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) there is nothing wrong with a fighter “tapping out.” “Tapping out” refers to a competitor tapping on their opponent, the ground or themselves to let the referee know they are done! In fact “tapping out” is perfectly acceptable and honorable in MMA. In MMA, the fighter is usually in an excruciating hold or a joint is bent in such a way that not tapping out would result in a dislocation. In other words, the fighter has no choice but to stop.
For some reason the sport of boxing often finds it unacceptable when a fighter or his corner decide to quit or “throw in the towel.” And for some reason it has become much more acceptable for a boxer to protest a call, yell at the referee, the doctor, or the commission than recognize that in truth the fight needed to be stopped to prevent potential lethal harm.
Yet, there are other ways a fighter can call it a night. These are more palatable ways that often officials ignore or simply aren’t trained to acknowledge. The Luisito Espinoza fight was the purest example. First of all, Luisito has always been and today is considered a great competitor, a former world champion and a fighter that never gives up. He put up a great effort during his last fight against Zahir Raheem. As the final rounds went by, you could see he was winding down his attempt at a win, nevertheless you certainly couldn’t count him out from throwing a devastating blow that could change the fight’s direction. He went down and took a knee towards the end of the eighth round. The camera doesn’t lie and ESPN is excellent in catching the action. Luisito was allowed to get up at the count of 10. However as the referee counted nine, then 10, Luisito barely made it up. He wasn’t particularly hurt when the referee reached ten, but you could tell he didn’t take his time getting to his feet to conserve energy. It was simple to see, he took his time (consciously or unconsciously) so the referee could stop the bout and all be happy. Unfortunately, the interpretation was different, not wrong. Luisito was told to continue and being the warrior he is, he took some additional punishment and the referee appropriately ended the contest.
My contention is that there would have been nothing wrong if Luisito had not risen by the count of 10 or if the referee had just stopped the bout. It was the right time for the fight to end. The fighter didn’t need to absorb those additional blows and it wouldn’t have made him any less of a fighter if he had stayed down a second or two longer. I believe that from the fighter’s body language it was obvious that he felt he could no longer win the fight.
Teddy Atlas speaks about a fighter’s “silent contract.” His reference is often used between opponents. Well, I also believe in this, but I take it a step further. It can exist between a referee/doctor and the fighter. The referee and the doctor are there to enable a fight to proceed to its natural conclusion. Part of that timing involves reading between the lines in a bout and for safety sake never enabling a fighter’s courage to interfere with doing the right thing. I understand that this can be looked at in many ways. Luisito wasn’t hurt when the fight finally did end, so no harm, no foul. I believe, just as the fighters are fine-tuning their expertise with every contest, we as officials are doing the same and learn from every card we work and every fight we watch. We are all students of the game and there is no perfect answer to any situation, but in this way we can improve and better protect the boxers we oversee.
Bottom line: there are many clues to an appropriate beautifully timed stoppage. The fighter’s body language and eyes tell you all you need to know.
UPCOMING TOPIC: The Flow of the Fight
Dr. Margaret Goodman is a Ringside Physician and Chairman of the Medical Advisory Board of the Nevada State Athletic Commission.
Dr. Margaret Goodman practices in Las Vegas, Nevada, where she is a licensed ringside physician since 1994. Her medical specialty is in the field of Neurology. Dr. Goodman was appointed by Nevada’s Governor, Kenny C. Guinn, in September of 2001, to serve as Chairman of the Medical Advisory Board to the Nevada State Athletic Commission. Although she is Chairman of the Commission’s Medical Advisory Board, all of the views, opinions, and/or recommendations contained herein are solely her own and do not necessarily reflect those of Nevada’s Commission. All readers are strongly cautioned that the information contained herein is not intended to, and never should, substitute for the necessity of seeking the advice of a qualified medical professional whenever a boxer or his/her representatives have specific questions regarding the best course of action that a boxer should take. Furthermore, since it is possible that general information herein may pertain only to a law, regulation, rule or acceptable standard of practice for a particular jurisdiction, a boxer or his/her representatives must always inquire with the appropriate licensing jurisdiction to determine the applicable laws, regulations, rules, and acceptable standards of practice for each jurisdiction.
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